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House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreement.

Topics

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4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

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4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

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The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

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The Deputy Speaker

Accordingly, the vote on Bill C-11 is deferred until the end of government orders next Monday.

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you were to seek it, I think you would find consent to further defer the division from Monday at the end of government orders until Tuesday at the end of oral question period.

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4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from April 21 consideration of the motion that Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2004 / 4:40 p.m.

Elgin—Middlesex—London Ontario

Liberal

Gar Knutson LiberalMinister of State (New and Emerging Markets)

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise again to speak to Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act.

As all hon. members know, Bill C-12 proposes a number of criminal law reforms that seek to better protect children against sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect, to facilitate testimony by child victims and witnesses, other vulnerable victims, and witnesses in criminal justice proceedings, as well as to create a new offence of voyeurism.

I believe that all of Bill C-12 is important and I support the whole of the bill. However, I will take the time that remains today to restrict my comments to those provisions that respond to the concerns relating to the age of consent to sexual activity.

Bill C-12's objective on the issue is clearly articulated in the first paragraph of the preamble:

Whereas the Parliament of Canada has grave concerns regarding the vulnerability of children to all forms of exploitation, including child pornography, sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect;--

The focus of Bill C-12's response to concerns about the age of consent to sexual activity is on the exploitative conduct of the wrongdoer and not on whether the young person or victim consented to that conduct. This is, in my view, both the right focus and the right response.

More specifically, Bill C-12 proposes to create a new category of prohibitive sexual exploitation of a young person who is over the age of consent, that is, someone who is 14 years of age or older and under 18 years.

Under the proposed reform, courts would be directed to infer that a relationship is exploitive by looking to the nature and circumstances of that relationship, including the age of the young person, any difference in age and the degree of control or influence exerted over the young person.

I understand that there continue to be calls to raise the age of consent to sexual activity. Why is this? As I understand them, these calls seem to be motivated by a number of different reasons. For example, one reason sometimes given in support of raising the age of consent is that raising the age of consent to 16 or 18 would prevent others from forcing young persons into the sex trade.

In response to this, I note that it is already an offence under the Criminal Code to force anyone under the age of 18 years into prostitution and that this offence carries a mandatory minimum penalty of five years imprisonment. I would think it is also against criminal law to force anyone into prostitution.

Another reason given seems to be related to the differing understandings of what is meant by sexual activity. Canadian prohibitions against sexual activity do not differentiate between sexual activity that consists of kissing and sexual activity that involves sexual intercourse.

I do not believe that Canadians think that a 14 or 15 year old girl is not mature enough to freely make a decision to kiss her 17 year old boyfriend. Nor do I believe that Canadians want to criminalize a 17 year old for kissing a 14 year old girlfriend. Whether we as adults like it or not, the reality is that adolescents engage in sexual activity and the criminal law is not the place to deal with this type of activity.

I think other reasons sometimes given is that 14 or 15 year olds are too young and immature to fully appreciate the consequences of their decisions to engage in sexual activity. While it is true that a 14 or 15 year old does not typically possess the maturity of an 18 year old, as a society, nonetheless, we consider them mature enough to be treated as an adult under the new Youth Criminal Justice Act for the commission of serious violent offences.

Whatever the reason for advocating an increase in the age of consent, the common thread appears to be the prevention of sexual exploitation of young persons. This intent is to be applauded. On this I think that Bill C-12 delivers.

Unlike proposals to raise the age of consent to 16 years of age, Bill C-12 proposes to extend protection not only to 14 and 15 year olds, but also to 16 and 17 year olds. It would protect youth from exploitation at the hands of anyone.

Bill C-12 contains many welcomed reforms to the criminal law to protect our most vulnerable members of society. I hope that all hon. members will support Bill C-12 to better protect Canadian children against exploitation in all its forms.

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4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speaker in regard to the number of reasons why people were suggesting that the age of consent should be raised from 14 to 16 years of age.

One particular reason that he has not stated is that it is pretty obvious from all the information that we have gathered over the last few years that a huge majority of Canadians are asking for it. The last I heard they were the bosses of this place and we are their servants.

As their servants, why do we not comply with the wishes of the huge majority in this country and raise the age of consent?

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Gar Knutson Liberal Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question coming from the hon. member. I think reasonable people can differ on this. We come to the issue of the age of consent from different philosophical backgrounds, religious backgrounds, and cultural backgrounds. I think it is within the bounds of reason that people have different views.

They can also have different views about the appropriateness of using the criminal law to force people to behave in a certain way. The criminal law should be our last resort of making people do things. For example, as a father with three children, ages 14, 12 and 8, I have concerns about when they would engage in sexual activity and at what age. However, I do not rely on the criminal law to govern that activity.

I rely on providing them a good home, with certain standards, making certain decisions, and fundamentally appreciating that actions have consequences. At a certain age they are not old enough to appreciate the consequences of their actions and the best thing to do is to avoid certain activities that might have very serious consequences; and sexual activity is one of them.

To get to the member's point, we would disagree just on the fact that the overwhelming majority of Canadians think that the age of consent should be raised. In my constituency office, I do not see any particular evidence to that degree. This is not an issue on which I have received a number of telephone calls. Certainly, there are some people in the community who would like to see it raised to 16 years and I respect those views.

For the arguments that I have laid out, I do not think we want to criminalize sexual activity above a certain age. I think that it is an important view and I do not want to dismiss it out of hand. However, I do not believe that it represents the view of the overwhelming majority of Canadians as the member has indicated.

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4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask this member whether he thinks it is okay for a 25 year old to have sex with a 14 year old and if he does not think so, why does he not do something about it?

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Gar Knutson Liberal Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just addressed that in the previous questions. Of course, I do not think it is appropriate for a 25 year old--

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4:50 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Gar Knutson Liberal Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member whether, given the seriousness of this topic, we could discuss it without interrupting each other because this is a serious topic.

It goes very much to the core beliefs of a majority of Canadians. I would like to ask the member not to heckle me while I am trying to give my response. I understand that is not the way it is normally done in this House, but I would think that, given the issue of child exploitation, we might not debate the way we normally do and that we might just be quiet and respectfully debate with each other, given that different people can have different views.

The point I was trying to make is that it is about the limitations of the criminal law and do we use that as a sledgehammer to bring about what I would think is a good social purpose?

I agree with his point that it is wrong, in a general sense, for a 25 year old to have sex with a 14 year old and that under certain circumstances the criminal law would intervene. It is in the bill and so I think that the hon. member should still support the bill.

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4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address this topic on one more occasion.

I do not disagree with a lot of the philosophy behind the thinking that goes with the bill. I do not care to get into those kind of philosophical debates as to whether we should have a law indicating it is not a smart thing for a 40 year old, for example, to convince a 14 year old to have an activity at that age. There should be a stringent law to deter people from that possibility, but that is not a major part of my concern in regard to the bill.

Many in here know from the past where my concern comes lies, and that with the protection of children through the elimination and absolute ban of child pornography. We recently voted on a motion I put forward in the House of Commons. It asked for the creation of legislation that would eliminate all defences for people using child pornography for the purpose of exploiting children. That motion was unanimously accepted.

The problem I have with Bill C-12 is it does not do that, and therein lies the debate. Many Liberals will say the words “artistic merit” have been removed from the bill, but the words “public good” have been replaced them. Therein lies the topic of my debate, child pornography.

I would like to point out something for all members of the House and for the Canadian public at large. As a member of Parliament and the opposition critic, I have been working on child pornography. This is not a sporadic incident or something that comes up occasionally or seldom.

Before I came here today, I did some research. I have examples showing that this is not an occasional incident. Cases of child exploitation through the use of child pornography happen every day across Canada. They are not reported, or printed in big headlines in newspapers or not talked about on television. This is going on in a huge way, and we are unable to recognize that fact.

I have recent article from the last few days which appeared in the Calgary Sun . The headline reads, “No Jail Time in Kiddie Porn Case”. This is a small article not a big article like we read on the front pages. A guy was convicted of kiddie porn, but he was not put in jail. He was considered treatable, and he would stop this nasty business. He received no punishment except house arrest. Just recently a former Saskatchewan RCMP officer was found guilty of child sex offences, and he too received house arrest as punishment.

These cases illustrate to all Canadians, particularly members in the House, that individuals in Canada who are charged and arrested or being investigated for the offence of using child pornography come from all walks of life. People sometimes think only bums or whoever might be doing this, but that is not so. Bankers, teachers, preachers, officers of the law and others are being charged with this offence. It is widespread, and it is a huge industry.

I have another case in which a Alberta man ran a child porn ring, an international group distributing child pornography on the Internet. They were making huge profits. Lots of big, grown-up men are making money from absolutely evil pictures that come across the Internet. They are exploiting our young children across the nation. More than 1,000 images and 250 video clips were on the computers of this individual. That is astounding. There were videos of the most awful stuff one could imagine, children as young as two years old having sexual acts with adults. If that is not evil, I do not know what else one would call it.

A 78 year old man from the Waterloo region faces child pornography charges. Good grief, a 78 year old man. Then a London child porn offender, and I am talking just this week, got house arrest. A huge amount of material and images which he had brought back with him from a business trip to some other parts of the world were found on his computer. It is unbelievable. This guy is a successful businessman, making big bucks off the avails of child pornography, involving very young children.

Another headline states that an ex-Children's Aid Society worker was busted again. This was in Windsor. He is 27 years old. He is back in custody. He was busted once again because he had all this filth in his possession which exploited young children. Another headline says that porn charges were laid in Niagara Falls. He is to appear in court in St. Catherines next week.

I could go on and on. I have a whole pile of these. I could give example after example. Any police force or anybody engaged in trying to do something about this serious problem will tell us that these are everyday occurrences and they are running rampant. We only hear about the sensational cases. I do not know if it is fair to call them that. We do not hear about all of them because I guess it has become unimportant to the media. It does not talk much about it.

Governments are not responding very well. I look at the Toronto police department. It has only a handful of officers to deal with millions and millions of items that they have taken from people in the Toronto area who are under investigation for breaking the laws using child pornography. I know there are members sitting in the House right now who have seen some of the material that the Toronto police officers have confiscated. They are trying to illustrate to all of us how serious this is. There are images of babies in diapers all the way to young teenagers who are absolutely abused to no end. It is unbelievable that it is happening.

We also know that through the hard and dedicated efforts of five or six police officers in the Toronto region, a six year old girl from North Carolina was rescued. They were able to determine from the images who this child was, locate her and get her out of that situation. As far as I am concerned, these Toronto police officers are national heroes for having done that.

However, it saddens me when I read their reports. They can only estimate, but they tell me there could be up to 100,000 children being used to produce child pornography, which is being distributed and used throughout the world. Out of that, a few of those, a great many of those or several hundred of those could be here in Canada. They could be right next door to us, but we do not know where they are. However, through their hard effort, hours and hours of going through this material and doing the best they could with it, these people were absolutely successful in finding this one.

I really think we should listen to the police departments when they call for the government to provide them with some funding to help them set up a national strategy across the land and connecting with international agencies. Then they could really go after this in full force and defeat this evil enemy that is child pornography, the enemy of our children. Lord knows we would not have any trouble finding the funding when we look at where some of our funding goes.

Obviously, every member in the House agrees that needs to happen. They expressed that in the vote which I spoke about earlier. They said that they wanted to get rid of it. The only way we can do this is by first passing legislation that removes the possibility for anybody in this land to have possession of, distribute or make a fortune out of any child pornography that exploits the children.

We ran into a little problem recently. A fellow by the name of Sharpe ended up in court and some judge declared that some of the material he had in his possession had some artistic merit. Because of that decision, artistic merit was written into the law as a defence. There was an outcry from the public, and I was really pleased to be part of that, saying that we had to remove artistic merit. There is no defence for people exploiting children through child pornography. Everybody agrees on that. Then the government comes down with Bill C-12, and there is the problem. What has it done? It has replaced artistic merit with the words “public good”.

How long will it be before some child pornographer, who is brought to court and charged, pleads innocent under this law, Bill C-12, of public good? We do not even know what that public good might be. Will it be because a particular piece of stuff has some artistic value to it or some other value to it and the person will fight for the right to produce or use it for his or her own personal purpose, whatever they might be? We do not know what that public good definition will be, but one day we will know. Some judge, somewhere, in some court will have to define it because this legislation does not.

My suggestion to every member in the House is let us live up to the vote we recently had to eliminate all defences. Let us do that by protecting those individuals who may have a purpose for having this child pornography material in their possession.

I tried, to no avail, to convince a number of people from the governing party in this place, the Liberals, that all we need to do is cover all the possibilities we could think of and include them in the act if they happened to be missing. They have not done that. They continue to leave “public good” in place.

Therefore, I have a suggestion for this bill and this particular section. I have put together a private member's bill, which I have introduced. The clause in this private member's bill is going to say that when the accused is charged with an offence under the child pornography section-and I will not go into all the numbers--“the court shall find the accused not guilty if the [visual] representation or written material that is alleged to constitute child pornography has an educational, scientific, or medical purpose”. I want to add to that: “or if the acts that are alleged to constitute the offence were carried out for the purposes of law enforcement”.

What that does is protect bona fide doctors, psychiatrists and scientists who might be using this material for scientific, medical or educational purposes. Also, it protects the police who are investigating when they take this material into their possession. We need to protect those bona fide individuals who are working hard to stamp out child pornography. We can do that by including them in this clause.

Therefore, we could eliminate the items of “public good”. The undefined “public good” could be removed. Then we could send a message to the courts that they are to protect the bona fide doctors, scientists, psychologists, investigators, police forces or whatever agency it might be as long as it is for those medical, scientific, educational or law enforcement purposes. We do not want anybody who has a legitimate reason for having this in their possession to be arrested and charged.

However, more than anything else, I do not want to subject one more police officer in this country--and I am sure every member in here would agree with me--to having to sit in a chair day after day and hour after hour determining whether any of this filth that they have confiscated has any public good or artistic merit or any of that to it. We must not do that.

We must quit exposing our enforcers of the law to that, because it is driving them up the wall. And so it would if we had nothing else to do but go through all of these millions and millions of pieces of material that they have in the Toronto police department alone. It would have to drive someone around the deep bend. I know that there are members in here who know what I am talking about because they have seen those examples that were confiscated.

Let us put an end to it and get a strong message out to those who would perpetrate it upon our children. We are not going to look at this idea that the right to freedom of expression of a person who is going to exploit children through child pornography is going to override the rights of a child in this land to be safe from this kind of enemy.

We can do it. This government could do it. Bill C-12 does not do it because those two words, “public good”, are still in the bill. Let us get rid of it. Let us protect all those guys who are doing their work. Let us do the right thing. Let us all do what we as members of the House of Commons did when we unanimously agreed that we would eliminate all defences. Let us do it and do it now.

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5:10 p.m.

London West Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I should put on the record the motion that my hon. colleague has alluded to and for which, unfortunately, he left out a phrase. The motion stated:

...protect our children from further sexual exploitation by immediately eliminating from child pornography laws all defences for possession of child pornography which allow for the exploitation of children.

The important part is “which allow for the exploitation of children”.

We have allowed the public good defence. Why? Because police officers need it. We do not want to be charging police officers if they are in touch with this material. The public good is important because the people who have to prosecute, the people who have to take these things before a court and get the convictions where warranted, need the public good defence. That is part of it. It is already there.

I might say that we are here at third reading debate and third reading debate means that we get to vote to get this bill to the Senate. But guess what? I am actually standing to respond to this member's speech not on the real third reading debate but on a hoist motion, which has removed this so we could not vote to send it to the Senate. Why? Because those members wanted to procedurally delay it in the House. The hoist motion is to put it back into the committee.

It has already passed the committee. It has already passed the second reading and report stages in the House. This bill is needed. It is needed not in six months. It was needed yesterday in our courtrooms. It is needed because there are protections for the children who have to go court, protections to help them do their witnessing and their testifying. It is needed because the judges need these new laws to help them in light of decisions by the court.

Let me tell members that we craft things such as “public good” to respond to decisions such as Sharpe to make sure that what we can do will stand up. This is not some figment of one person's imagination. It is very easy to read the litany of the crimes in a newspaper, but we know that it is more important and is our responsibility here to pass the laws that help. That is what we could have been doing instead of delaying this bill.

I have been here as the parliamentary secretary listening to hoist motion debates and it is not pretty. We could have gotten this bill through had we had the cooperation from the other side.

I want to talk a little about what exactly public good means. It means, in this defence, that any material or act in question must serve the public good and must not exceed what serves the public good. That means, unlike the existing defence of artistic merit in the subsection in the code, the proposed public good defence would require a two stage analysis. Does the material or act or serve the public good in any of the recognized areas? If so, does it go beyond what serves the public good? No defence is available where it does not serve the public good or poses a risk or harm that exceeds what serves the public good.

We have to act responsibly. It is difficult to craft something that stands up in the courts and still does the job. We have crafted a bill. We are not trying to delay this bill. We are not trying to delay the protections. This bill is very, very important. I think what we should do now--

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5:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I was wondering whether the member thought she was making a speech or whether she was posing a question to my colleague. I think she just answered it, so let us let her go on.

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5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

The member is entitled to make comments or ask questions. I would ask her to limit her time to approximately half of the questioning time and to continue, please.